We're crying. Literally. Crying so much we have to wipe our eyes to focus on the screen. It's not an emotion we expected StarCraft II to evoke in us, but what we're witnessing is so funny that we're pissing tears of joy. Having just spent the best part of 20 minutes constructing a colossal army of Level 3 Zerg roaches we've finally had the glorious satisfaction of sending them on an invasion of a totally unsuspecting competitor's base who's spent the same time faffing about building research units and missile silos. Hence he's totally unprepared.
The Roaches pile in like a plague of land-borne space locusts and savage the entire Terran complex with devastating efficiency. Resistance is totally futile as the upgraded Roach is impervious to whatever the rapidly decreasing robot army can throw at it.
That's why we're laughing. Not so much at what's happening on screen but at the look on the face of the guy who's taking the Roach hiding. All he can do is watch, open-mouthed, shaking his head as all his painstaking clicking and building is reduced to dust. It's like he's been kicked down some particularly high steps.
If only that was the recurring story of our 16 hour play test of multiplayer StarCraft II, held in a darkened room in Blizzard's offices. Because for the remaining 15 hours 40 minutes it was us who got consistently reamed.
We blame it on our age. Before we started playing we learned that in Korea, where StarCraft is a national sport, players are considered over the hill once they reach the age of 24. Many of our opponents were young StarCraft experts, members of community websites and forums brought in to discuss the minutiae of the new game with the development team - all under 24. At 29 going on 30 we didn't stand a chance. That's our excuse anyway.
Some context: prior to getting hands-on time with StarCraft II, the idea of spending 16 hours playing an RTS (any RTS in fact) filled us with fear. Not only were we ill-at-ease with the terminology used - never mind Protoss, Zerg and Terran, what about Toxic Creep, the Nydus Canal mechanic and Swarm Infestation? - but the RTS genre itself, to us, is something of a dark art, a mysterious past-time undertaken by a fanatical breed of anorak gamers. Initial thoughts? This wouldn’t be fun: it was going to be a baffling ordeal.
But after we'd applied our minimal knowledge of the mechanics of original StarCraft to this latest version it became clear to us why Blizzard is the multi-million dollar company it is. Their designers know exactly what hooks you in to a game, makes you want to keep playing and then play some more until your legs go numb and dehydration sets in. Whether it's World Of Warcraft or StarCraft, these are series that go beyond being transient 'games', developing into entire global communities that ignore passing trends of graphics, fashionable genre clones and console arms races.